Nero d'Avola

near-oh da-vo-la

Origin: Italy
Grape: Small, spherical with bluish purple skin.
Flavors: Fruit-driven flavors of include black cherry, prune, black plum, and licorice.
Notable Regions: Sicily
Sweetness: Dry
Body: Full-bodied wine comparable to Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah, and Pinotage.
Tannins: High
Acidity: Moderate, but not overly tart.
ABV: 13.5-14.5%

Nero d'Avola History

Nero d’Avola is a renowned red grape from Italy, where it is still grown today in its indigenous region of Sicily.

The grape takes its name from both its color as well as the town Avola in Sicily. The literal translation of Nero d’Avola is, in fact, “Black of Avola”, which is a reference to the grape's dark-colored skin. As a varietal, the grape is both culturally and historically significant to Sicily, where it has been produced for hundreds of years. Its first documentation actually dates back to the 17th century! Today, it accounts for roughly 16% of all grapes grown in vineyards on Sicily, and it is grown with much success across the entire island, not just its namesake town of Avola.

Nero d'Avola vs. Syrah vs. Merlot

Nero d’Avola ripens relatively early as far as wine grapes go, typically around mid-September, but it still typically ripens after or at the same time as the notable varietal Syrah. In terms of a comparison, Merlot, a more common red wine, serves as a solid way to contrast the grape. For example, the Nero D’Avola grape is much heavier, with both the grapes and bunches weighing about 50% more than Merlot. The tannin and sugar counts, while high, are also less than Merlot, which makes for a lighter overall wine color (though the color of the grape skin itself can be very dark, even black, hence the name). While the wine can be acidic, if it is grown at higher altitudes it often takes on a much smoother, more balanced taste, since the cooler climates in higher elevations restrain the alcohol levels in the grape.

A Wine Grape for Blends

Though today Nero d’Avola can be found on its own, it is interesting to note that throughout much of the 20th century the wine was simply used as a blending grape to fortify much weaker red wines, a common practice. This was largely the case as a result of the more limited wine market of the early 20th century. However, even during the massive growth, expansion, and globalization of winemaking in the 60s and 70s, during which time new wines from all over the world became more accessible for the common consumer, Sicily had a reputation for growing cheaper, mass-produced, dull wines, with winemakers that valued the quantity produced above all else. This meant that Nero d’Avola, in addition to other grapes commonly grown in Sicily, were left out of the boom. Then, in the 80s, a new group of winemakers in Sicily began to bring about a change in this opinion, and Nero d’Avola, along with Frapatto and Nerello Mascalese, started to draw new attention to the region. Nowadays, all three of these can be found as varietal wines, a result of both a new appreciation for their quality as well as an expanding wine industry.

Nero d'Avola Taste and Flavor

Nero d’Avola is a strong, full-bodied fruity wine, that takes on notes of black cherry, prune, black plum, and licorice. It often exudes an herbal and cherry aroma that matches its fruity nature. Younger d’Avola’s typically have a juicy plum taste. That said, the overall makeup of the grape allows for the wine to age very well, and most varietal wines are aged in oak barrels. During this process, it is not uncommon for the wine to pick up more complexities, such as raspberry and even chocolate notes, with a much stronger depth of flavor.

The Future of Nero d'Avola

While the practice of using Nero d’Avola for mixing continues, nowadays, the varietal wine has garnered a considerable following and developed a new presence around the world. Nero D’Avola has been accessible on the market for quite some time, and winemakers are beginning to branch out with the grape and experiment. The grape has actually become so popular that winemakers in both Australia and California are testing its ability to adapt to their respective climates and conditions, which most likely will have promising results because of the grape’s suitability for hot, dry climates. Some winemakers have gone as far as experimenting with using the grape to make Rosé wines, though this is a rare occurrence and not something you will find on the open market for now.

Nero d'Avola Food Pairings

The Best Nero d'Avola Food Pairings

Nero d’Avola pairs particularly well with rich meats, including steaks, burgers, pork chops, veal, meatloaf, and even barbecue! The bold, acidic flavor of the wine allows it to cut through the fats, oils, and richness typical of these foods. The options don’t end there though. Not only does this serve well as a palate cleanser, but it helps bring balance to the meal. Chicken dishes, particularly those prepared with acidic sauces, make for an excellent pairing, and pastas, again with sauces that focus on the acidic nature of the wine, can also pair extremely well.

Of course, as with any wine, we cannot forget the different cheeses that go well with Nero d’Avola. For an excellent pairing, we recommend Fontina, Gruyere, Livarot, Cheddar, Muenster, and pretty much any Sheep’s milk cheese.

For those who enjoy seafood, the best options are shellfish and heavier, "less fishy" fish.

Food Pairings to Avoid with Nero d'Avola

As noted above, Nero d’Avola is a relatively versatile wine, but there are some foods to avoid. The wines acidity makes it a poor pairing for cream sauces, whether that’s on pasta, chicken or fish. These foods can work, but, again, the sauces need to fall more on the light, zesty side of things.

Our Selection of Nero d'Avola

Nero d'Avola in a Nutshell

Overall, Nero d’Avola is a great wine option for those who enjoy red wines that are both full-bodied but also acidic and fruity in nature. It is highly recommended for those who enjoy a heavy, meaty meal, with lots of oils and fats, as it serves as a perfect complement. As a red wine that has never gotten the same attention as that of, for example, Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, we recommend that those who appreciate a great red wine give it a try. It serves as an interesting varietal and one that many have come to thoroughly enjoy over the past few decades as the wine has become more and more popular, as well as accessible, in the global marketplace.

Ready to learn more? Don't forget to check out our other wine guides: